Two specific legal definitions of sexual harassment have been established in employment law:
Quid Pro Quo Harassment: "Something for something;" this is the "you do something for me and I'll do something for you" type of exchange. This occurs when a job benefit is directly tied to an employee submitting to unwelcome sexual advances. For example, a supervisor promises an employee a raise if she will go out on a date with him, or tells an employee she will be fired ifshe doesn't sleep with him. Quid pro quo harassment also occurs when an employee makes an evaluative decision, or provides or withholds professional opportunities based on another employee's submission to verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct or a sexual nature. Quid pro quo harassment is equally unlawful whether the victim resists and suffers the threatened harm or submits and thus avoids the threatened harm.
Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment: This occurs when an employee is subjected to comments of a sexual nature, offensive sexual materials, or unwelcome physical contact as a regular part of the work environment. Generally speaking, a single isolated incident will not be considered hostile environment harassment unless it is extremely outrageous and egregious conduct. The courts look to see whether the conduct is both serious and frequent. Supervisors, managers, co-workers and even customers can be responsible for creating a hostile environment.
Employers can be legally responsible for sexual harassment against their employees and liable to them for damages; however, liability depends on the type of harassment, and who committed it.
Harassment by a supervisor: If the harassment results in an employment action against the victim (such as firing, demotion, or unfavorable changes in work assignments), the employer is liable. The employer can also be liable if the harassment creates a hostile work environment. However it has a possible defense if the employer can show that the it took reasonable steps to prevent and promptly correct the problem, and the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of the company's preventive or corrective measures.
Harassment by a co-worker: The employer is liable if it knew, or should have known, about the harassment. However, the employer is not liable if immediate and appropriate corrective actions were taken to remedy the problem.
PLEASE NOTE: IF YOU ARE BEING SEXUALLY HARASSED AT WORK OR SCHOOL, AND THE PERPETRATOR IS A SUPERVISOR OR TEACHER, WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND YOU CONSULT WITH A LAWYER, EVEN BEFORE YOU FORMALLY REPORT THE HARASSMENT. If at all possible, do not begin the process of standing up for yourself without an experienced advocate.